Need to Know: Nov. 22, 2019


You might have heard: Twitter is exploring ways to help it not be so toxic (Vox)

But did you know: Twitter rolls out its ‘Hide Replies’ feature to all users worldwide (TechCrunch)

Twitter’s radical “Hide Replies” feature, one of the biggest changes to how Twitter works since the invention of the Retweet, is now available to Twitter’s global user base, reports Sarah Perez. One of Twitter’s more controversial features to date, it’s meant to encourage more civil discourse on the platform by allowing users to hide trolling or comments on their tweets that are irrelevant, hateful or otherwise disagreeable. The obvious downside is that the feature could be used to stifle critics — like someone offering a fact-check, for example. Especially now when social media is increasingly viewed as the new public square, a tool that would allow politicians to quash dissent could easily backfire.

+ Noted: Univision and Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network join forces to fight misinformation in the U.S. (Poynter); University of Michigan launches the Knight-Wallace Midwest News Fellowship to revitalize local and regional news in the Midwest (University of Michigan); Former Fox News anchor Shepard Smith donates $500,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists (New York Times)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

Why the Tories’ fact-check stunt matters, deepfakes are probably overrated, and applications for the IFCN’s Fact-Checking Innovation Initiative are now open. Factually is a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute that covers fact-checking and misinformation.

+ How The Dallas Morning News uses push notifications to grow its audience (Better News)


Philly news outlets collaborate to improve gun violence reporting (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

News outlets like Billy Penn and NBC Philadelphia worked together to create a list of resources for survivors of gun violence and their families, which now accompanies all reporting on the topic. The list came together after a summit organized by RJI fellow Jim MacMillan that looked at how journalists could cover community gun violence in ways that help reduce shootings and even save lives. Local residents at that summit pointed out that news organizations often share resources when reporting stories about suicide, domestic assault, sexual violence and addiction. “Why would it take six months to find out there is a group to support her through her grief and pain?” asked one participant, referring to another participant whose son was killed in a shooting 13 years ago. “That should have been reported in the news.”

+ Earlier: How The Durango Herald partnered to use a solutions-based approach to produce a youth suicide project (Better News)


Maria Ressa: ‘Our dystopian present is your dystopian future’ (CBS News)

In a new documentary from CBS, “Fake News, Real Consequences: The Woman Fighting Disinformation,” Filipino journalist Maria Ressa describes disinformation as one of the greatest threats facing society. Ressa is the subject of online smear campaigns coordinated by her government in retaliation for her critical reporting. She is currently facing charges of libel and tax evasion, which she says are false — but if convicted, she could spend up to 63 years in prison. Ressa says disinformation tactics used in the Philippines are now showing up in Western countries, including the U.S. “The only difference is that institutions in the United States are stronger than in the Philippines.”

+ Russian parliament backs law to label journalists as foreign agents if they receive money from abroad or distribute foreign media (Reuters)


Amnesty International says Facebook and Google’s business models amount to human rights abuse (Amnesty International)

A new report from Amnesty International lays out how the surveillance-based business model of Google and Facebook is inherently incompatible with human rights like privacy, freedom of expression, equality and non-discrimination. “The internet is vital for people to enjoy many of their rights, yet billions of people have no meaningful choice but to access this public space on terms dictated by Facebook and Google,” said Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo. “To make it worse this isn’t the internet people signed up for when these platforms started out. Google and Facebook chipped away at our privacy over time. We are now trapped.” The report calls for increased regulation of Big Tech by the world’s governments, and more robust data protection laws.


College media labs may increasingly clash with their universities (Poynter)

“As more and more universities become home to high-end investigative reporting labs, journalists invariably will clash with image-sensitive administrators, particularly when the reporting spotlight shines inward toward the campus itself,” writes Frank LoMonte. That’s because journalists employed or funded by universities do not necessarily enjoy the same First Amendment protections as journalists at professional news outlets. That’s a problem when some of today’s most impactful investigative reporting is being done by, or in cooperation with, students and faculty on college campuses, LoMonte points out. “The legal system must adapt to the growing reality that journalists are at risk of governmental reprisal from within their own workplaces.”

+ Earlier: University of Illinois is stifling NPR reporting on sexual misconduct, critics say (New York Times)

+ According to the figures in this New York Times article, the average daily newspaper in the new Gannett has fewer than 10 reporters (Twitter, @dicktofel)


‘The first draft of history is not being written — it has completely disappeared’ (New York Times)

Setting out to examine pockets of the U.S. that had no local news outlets, PEN America researchers realized they had to drastically widen their scope: Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print outlets have shuttered in the United States, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper at all. “This was a national crisis,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America. “This was not about a few isolated areas that were drying up.” The resulting report carries the sort of grim findings that are by now familiar to those in the news industry: School board and city council meetings are going uncovered (“It feels like we could all be getting away with murder right now” said one former public official), overstretched reporters receive promising tips about stories but have no time to follow up (that happened in Flint, Mich., regarding the water crisis), and civic engagement takes a nosedive. 


+ The Tow Center for Digital Journalism looks back at how earlier decades shaped our current debates around journalism, ethics, and AI (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ Who will succeed Dean Baquet at The New York Times? (BuzzFeed News)

+ How a newsroom’s “random acts of kindness” video series become part of its identity (Poynter)